Aus state to reform sexual assault law

The Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) will adopt affirmative consent as part of a reform to its sexual assault laws, Attorney General Mark Speakman announced on Tuesday.

Speakman said the state government was adopting or adopting in principle 44 recommendations made late last year by a state commission reviewing consent in relation to sexual offences, reports dpa news agency.

He also pointed to two key reforms relating to consent that go further.

The first is that there cannot be consent unless the party has done or said something to communicate it.

The second is that for an alleged perpetrator to have a reasonable belief that consent was given, they will have to have taken active steps to obtain it.

“You just can’t assume through lack of resistance or lack of protest that consent has been given,” Speakman said.

“It’s very simple, consent has to be communicated by the other party saying or doing something.

“To have a reasonable belief, an accused will have to have taken steps. The accused will have to have done something or said something, reasonable in the circumstances, to ascertain consent.

“We want to make it clear a thought process is not such a step, a reasonable step has to be an act or something said to ascertain the complainant’s consent,” he said.

The Attorney General added that the reforms will also reaffirm that consent is given voluntarily, can be withdrawn at any time, that consent for one sexual act is not consent for another and that self-intoxication of the accused is not an excuse for failing to form a reasonable belief that consent was given.

He said the change was about holding perpetrators to account but also about changing community behaviour so consent is sought.

The commission’s review was sparked by the advocacy of Saxon Mullins, who has been calling for changes to consent law since going public with her story of alleged sexual assault in 2018.

A court had found Mullins did not consent, but an appeals judge ruled the alleged perpetrator had the mistaken but genuine belief that she had consented, according to Australian newswire AAP.

“In 2017 I walked out of the NSW High Court feeling lost, alone and powerless,” Mullins said in a statement non-profit group Rape and Sexual Assault Research and Advocacy (RASARA), where she is now co-director of advocacy.

RASARA called Speakman’s announcement a “huge leap forward”.